Category Archives: lessons

Mind/Body Connection

Our Shih Tzu, Starburst, has an underbite.  Whenever she smiles, her bottom teeth prominently show.  This is what the dog looks like when she is happy:

 

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It makes me laugh to see her smile because, sometimes, I worry that she suffers from depression and anxiety.  There are days when she is completely listless.  She won’t get out of her bed.  Some days, she becomes impatient, angry, and demanding; other days, she is very quiet and remains distant and aloof.

Lately, however, Starburst has been very happy.  She jumps around excitedly whenever I walk in the front door.  She runs around in circles and then stops right in front of me.  She smiles while her tail wags so hard and fast her little backside bounces off the floor.  Then she runs down the hallway and tumbles over with her bottom flipping up over her head.  She prances back into the living room and jumps excitedly up onto the couch and begs for attention until I rub behind her ears.  “Hey, little Fur Face,” I’ll tease her.  But she doesn’t mind my name calling.  She’ll roll over onto her back and wait for her belly to be rubbed.  I usually avoid doing this, though.  Starburst has a very sensitive spot on the right side of her body.  If I accidentally brush over this area, she’ll sit up with a shriek and nip at my hand.  I’ve learned the hard way not to be persuaded to rub her belly, even though she looks up at me with her big, brown puppy dog eyes.  I’ll just shake my head at her, walk into my bedroom, and close the door behind me.

Starburst isn’t finished playing, though.  Her favorite game is “Ding Dong Ditch.”  She likes to scratch at my door while I’m working.  I try to ignore her, but she keeps knocking until I finally get up from my chair and open the door.  I look down the hallway and see the dog’s furry backside bouncing up and down as she runs back to the living room.  I follow her only to find that she has jumped into her small, round bed and pretends to be asleep.

I go back into my bedroom and a few minutes later, the scratching begins again.  I open the door, and Starburst is once more running back to her bed.  She jumps onto the mattress and once more pretends to sleep.  “Stop now, Starburst,” I’ll tell her.  “Your not funny.”

But the situation happens again.  I hear scratching at my door.  I see a small dog racing down the hallway.  I see her little body jerk into bed.  She lays her head down and once more closes her eyes.  This time, however, I just laugh at her.  I walk over and  pick her up. I cuddle her close and carry her back into the bedroom with me where she will fall asleep on my lap while I work on my novel or my poetry book.  Sometimes, she’ll crawl underneath my bed where she snores and sniffs loudly as she enjoys her dreams.

There were some late nights when Starburst would visit my bedroom and become very agitated.  I don’t know what it was, but something inside my closet upset her.  She would stand stiff and straight in the middle of my room, staring intently and growling at something in the corner of my closet.  There were some nights that she really freaked me out, too.  Did she see…or sense…something that I couldn’t comprehend?

But last night, she was suddenly over her fear.  As soon as she entered my bedroom, she went over to the closet and climbed in through the open wooden door.  She then quickly created a small nest out of my shoes and promptly fell asleep.  There was no growling or barking, no fear or agitation.  She snored peacefully. And I slept much easier that night, too.

Starburst is also learning to have better manners and not be so impatient.  Before, whenever she was hungry or thirsty, she would stand in the kitchen with her bowl in her mouth.  She would fling the bowl, hitting me in the ankles with it, whenever I walked into the room.  Oh, yes, I got the message: she needed food or water!

Starburst no longer behaves this way now, though.  The other night, I walked into the kitchen to wash the dishes.  I didn’t notice that her bowl was empty.  Instead of throwing it at me, I suddenly heard a small cough.  Seriously, the dog just started to emit dainty, little coughs.  Ahha! Ahha!  She sounded just like Ben Stiller in Zoolander when he thought he had the black lung.  But she got my attention, and I filled her bowl.  She looked up at me with a grateful smile, sipped slowly, and then gracefully walked out of the kitchen with her tail held high.  She hadn’t been anxious or angry.  She was courteous and kind.  This made me very happy.

Starburst had had some health issues over the last few months.  She had been suffering from digestive illnesses, and her right eye had become infected making it difficult for her to see.  Mary, my sister-in-law, had taken Starburst to a series of vet appointments that include a few shots and several rounds of medication.  The loving efforts of my sister-in-law and the doctor really has made a difference.

Starburst is returning to good health, and her personality has been affected in very positive ways. She is a perfect example of the mind/body connection.  It is true for every living thing.  When we are in good health, we are loving and kind.  When we feel good about ourselves and practice love, our phsyical bodies heal.  I smile now as Starburst comes into my room.  And as she cuddles up on my lap and falls asleep, I wish good health and loving blessings on everyone of God’s precious creatures.  God Bless You and Good Health!

 

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Float

I have to admit that I have a strange relationship with water.  Maybe it’s because I am not a strong swimmer.  Okay, to be honest, I’m not a swimmer at all.  However, over the last few years, I have found myself exploring various bodies of water.  There was the journey across the channel from England to Belguim and then to France, the cruise around Lake Mead, the voyage down the Colorado River, the expedition to view glaciers in Alaska, the whale watching adventure in Hawaii (which unfortunately, didn’t produce a single view of the large mammals), and even the gentle drift around the lake on a duck boat in Branson, Missouri.

So even though I have experienced a variety of watery journeys, I have to admit that I still feel a tense anxiety starting in my chest and rising up in my throat every time I board a boat.  Stress grips my heart and tightens my rib cage.  I find myself holding my breath as the boat begins to pull away from the dock. I silently begin to pray, “God, please, don’t let this boat sink.  Please, don’t let me fall overboard.  Please, I can’t swim and this lake (or ocean or sea or creek) is so deep…please, God, please, don’t let this boat go down…please…”

And then, I sigh an audible “…aaahhhh….” as the boat settles into the water and begins to roll back and forth on the waves.  At that moment, an amazing sense of peace and gratitude overwhelms me.  Like second nature, my soul just gives over to the need to be part of something larger than myself.  I look out at the water and feel amazed by the vastness of the universe.  My anxiety always gives way to the most luxurious feeling of peace once I find myself sailing along with the currents.  As the saying goes, “When I stop struggling, I float.”

So that’s why on August 30th, 2017, I was filled with both excitement and anxiety as I stood in front of the Hotel Pacific in Cairns, Australia.  I was waiting for the tour bus that was going to take me to the port where I would be getting on a boat that would be carrying me out to the Great Barrier Reef.  Though I was already praying for a safe journey, I still couldn’t shake the exhilaration that was pounding through me.  I was about to experience one of the best attractions in Australia.  After ten minutes of prayer and stress, I was finally aboard the Western Winds bus, which was expertly driven by a friendly, older man who looked like the Skipper from Gilligan’s Island.  The heavyset, incredibly kind man had gray wispy strands of hair straining around the sides of his head.  His blue captain’s hat tilting to the left and his crooked smile leaning to the right may not have inspired a lot of confidence, but felt immensely welcomed and respected by this driver as I settled into a seat near the front of the bus.

The drive to the harbor was going to take about an hour with a few stops along the way to pick up additional passengers.  I thought that this would be a great time to catch up on my journal entries. I held my pen over a blank sheet of paper, but I couldn’t concentrate.  I just wanted to stare out the window and see as much of Australia as I possibly could through the large, slightly grimy, thick windows.  I wanted to climb every tree, smell every flower, and count every blade of grass.  I had even stared at all of the hotels and tried to count all of the doors and windows as I tried to commit everything I saw to memory.  But, of course, the bus was moving too fast to experience Australia in this way, so instead I was content for a few minutes to relax back in my seat and watch the two lovely bees buzzing around the front window on the opposite side of the bus.

Finally, we arrived at the pier and the bus driver, who would be traveling to the reef with us, pointed in the direction of the dock where our boat was waiting.  I was glad he was there to direct us; the harbor was full of a multitude of ships of various styles and colors.

Once aboard, crewmembers greeted the passengers in the cabin with coffee, tea, cookies, and an interesting presentation on coral and sea life by a marine biologist.  Twenty minutes later, as the boat revved up and started to move out into the ocean, I once more started to pray, “God, please, don’t let this boat sink…”

But within a few short minutes, the sense of awe overcame me and I started to relax as the boat rocked back and forth on the water.  Aaaaahhhh.  I couldn’t help the deep sigh of serenity that escaped my lips as the boat moved further away from the dock.  With the majority of the other tourists, I climbed the white metal stairway to the top of the boat.  My sudden sense of peace had compelled me to sit where I could observe the water, the sun, the fluffy clouds, the pure blue sky, and the other boats that sailed along beside us.

I settled down on one of the red vinyl benches that bordered the top tier of the boat.  I closed my eyes and let my body relax with the swaying of the ship as I breathed in the smooth, warm air….at first.

Within a few minutes, however, my eyes popped open and I sat up straight.  The strong currents were pushing the boat sideways and the wind was blowing so hard that the red canopy covering the boat began to snap loudly as it flapped up and down.  I put my hands down on the bench to grip the edge of my seat.  I felt my body beginning to roll as the boat rocked violently back and forth.  I glanced at all of the people sitting on the other benches around me.  Though everyone seemed to be gripping onto their seats or trying to push the widely blown hair out of their faces, I grew concerned that I was going to embarrass myself by getting sick.  I had never been on a wilder ride out on the water.  I was now mentally kicking myself for not accepting one of the seasick pills that the crewmembers had passed around before the ship left the dock.  I’m not a believer in taking any sort of pills unless absolutely necessary and I had never gotten sick on a boat before.  Anxiety and stress, yes, but never physically sick.

I decided then that my best course of action would be to go downstairs to the cabin and see if I could still get one of those little blue pills.  I pushed myself up from the bench and started to walk across the white wooden planks that made up the floor of the upper tier of the boat.  Oh, my gosh…what was happening!?  I couldn’t get my footing with the crazy rocking of the ship.  I hadn’t had any of the wine or champagne that the crew had offered earlier and yet I couldn’t walk a straight line no matter how hard I tried!  And I did try hard.

My goal was to walk over to the steps leading down to the galley.  However, as I tried to walk towards the stairs, I moved my legs straight and yet found myself high stepping to the left!  I tried to walk to the right and got my legs all tangled up and almost tripped myself.  I straightened my legs and found myself suddenly lurching to the left again.  I was suddenly aware, even with the noise of the wind whipping through the canopy, the flags, and various clothing items, that no one was talking or laughing anymore.  Everyone had suddenly grown still as they watched me walking (?) rubber legged across the upper deck.  Oh, my gosh, was my only thought now, these people must think I’m stinkin’ drunk.  I tried to force myself to straighten my back and hips and walk forward, but I was still all wobbly legged and continued moving right in order to go left!  I swear I was walking like a drunken sailor back from a three-day leave!  I struggled to get my footing and found myself sliding backwards two steps for every one-step I moved forward.

Finally, a young man  wearing a yellow t-shirt and multi-colored, striped shorts stood up and took a few steps towards me.  He started to reach out his right hand to grab my arm, but he was too late.  I tumbled away from him just as he made a grab for me.  The man tried one more time, but we missed each other again as he stumbled in one direction and my body was thrown the opposite way.  At that point, the man basically gave up as he threw up his arms and backed away, leaving me completely to my own devices.  Trying to regain some sense of balance, we both walked wide-legged towards the stairs as the ship rolled back and forth.

And then…success!  I did it!  I got to the steps first but I don’t think the man had put up much of a fight.  I suddenly realized that he had let me win so I would go down the stairs first and avoid falling on top of him if I fell.  So, now I was anxious to prove that his assessment of my awkward movements was completely wrong.  I was determined to get down the stairs without a stumble.  I gripped the white metal railing and carefully lowered myself down one-step at a time as the man followed cautiously behind me.

I now walked across the lower deck and entered the galley.  It wasn’t until I was on the carpeted floors of the cabin that I was finally able to walk straight.  Thankfully, the crewmembers had placed numerous little blister packets of the seasick pills in a large, plastic, blue bowl on a wooden counter by the door.  I still grabbed two of the packets and placed them in the pocket of my jeans as one of the male attendants reminded me that the pills only really work if taken before leaving port.  Oh, well…I would save them for the journey back.

After leaving the galley, I decided not to even try going back to the upper deck.  Instead, I carefully edged my way across the lower level and sat down on a bench.  Now, I felt more relaxed and calm as I sat by myself watching the tall waves as they splashed up against the boat.

About 30 minutes later, I was amazed to see a tall lighthouse situated on a small island come into view and the boat slowly began to drift to a gentle stop.  Our ship didn’t dock on the island.  Instead, like all of the other boats in the area, our vessel dropped anchor and we continued to bop up and down on the waves, the island still 100 feet away from us.  To get to the island, all passengers were transferred on to large sailboats.  Now, maybe from sheer relieve that I had survived the journey to the Great Barrier Reef, I joyfully and gracefully stepped across the gap between the two boats and settled myself into a seat.  I was now on a glass bottom boat and eagerly leaned forward to view the reef as the marine biologist pointed out various varieties of coral, fish, turtles, and clams.  I was so fascinated by the view that I completely forgot for a moment that I was still on a boat that was rocking with the currents.  I felt as if I was peering into an alien world, an advanced civilization that I could only see from the outside looking in.  I really wanted to be a part of that world but decided not to go scuba diving.  Again, I am not a strong swimmer (okay, honestly, once again, I’m not a swimmer at all!) and was afraid I would hold back the group that would be following along on a guided tour led by the biologist.

Instead, I carefully exited the boat and sunk my feet into the warm deep sand of the island.  I roamed around by myself for a while as I waded in the cool Pacific water, took long deep breaths, played in the sand, and snapped a lot of pictures, filling up a single memory card.  I probably overdid it with the pictures , but the scene was far too beautiful to trust it just to my memory.  I didn’t trust my jumbled and scattered brain to take it all in or remember the amazing sights.  After a while of roaming aimlessly and purposely, I sat with one of my fellow passengers in the shade and discussed our various travels.  The elderly gentleman was from Sydney, and joyfully informed me of all of the main attractions I had to visit when I explored that area of Australia the following week.

After a tour around the island with the marine biologist, the passengers and crew explored the lighthouse and the small grave that held the remains of the first woman to be the caretaker of the lighthouse.   I stood for a few moments over the grave and imagined what life must have been like for this woman, who had lived in solitude while her husband was away on the continent for the majority of their lives.  She had lived on this island, fighting the elements, surviving alone while making sure the lighthouse would always be bright to save the many ships from harm.  So many years ago, what had life been like for this strong, courageous woman?

All too soon, the sailboat arrived to take my group back to our boat.  Once again, everyone was settled into the gallery with cups of tea or coffee and cookies.  I sat in a booth with the elderly Sydney man and his wife as we talked about our homes and travels and waited for the boat to rev up again and carry us back to port.  Not taking any chances, I covertly swallowed one of the seasick pills and prepared myself for the journey.  I was hoping that the ride back would be much smoother.  We would be going with the currents this time since we were traveling in the opposite direction now, right?  But then, the Sydney man informed me.  “The journey to and from the island is always rough because we never go with the currents.  The distance between the dock and the island is always going across the currents.”  I just smiled and nodded as if I had expected this, but in my head, I had started to pray again.  “Oh, God, please, don’t let this ship sink…”

After a few minutes, I decided to be courageous and step outside onto the lower deck.  I took a seat on one of the benches as a middle-aged couple settled into seats to the right of me.  And this time, as the ship moved across the water, I couldn’t stop laughing!  Instead of rocking back and forth on this journey, the boat was literally bouncing up off the water!  The waves were so high that our ship would sail up into the air and then flop back down onto the water with a loud smack.  I had to jump up and change my seat several times as heavy waves splashed up over the white railings of the boat and flooded the lower deck.  A few times, I clung to my seat as the boat sunk down below the surface of the waves and then shot straight up in the air again.  Many times, my hands lost their grip on the edge of the seat and my body was basically airborne, with my little skinny legs kicking helplessly in the air, as I flew up over the deck and then smacked back down on my bottom on the bench again.

I don’t know if it was the seasick pills or just the joy of being alive, but I didn’t feel afraid.  Instead the wild ride exhilarated me.  I had never experienced anything like this before and I was excited by the whole adventure.  As a gigantic wave once again chased me out of my seat, I crookedly walked across the deck and stood on the other side as one of the female crew members walked out of the galley.  The young woman stood for a moment and brushed her long, blond hair back out of her face before she suddenly said, “Look!  Look at the whales!”  She pointed excitedly out at the ocean.  I turned quickly just as two large glorious whales leaped out of the water, their white and silver bodies glistening in the sun before they flopped back down into the ocean.   Their movement caused our boat to roll violently to the right side, but I didn’t care.  Oh, my gosh…there were large whales right in front of my eyes!  I carefully crossed the deck again and gripped hold of a thick metal white pole just as the two whales shot straight up out of the water again and this time a small baby whale jumped with the them!  I laughed out loud as I suddenly realized that the boat had been rocking and flying into the air because of the whales frolicking so closely to us.  The whales had been circling around us ever since we had left the island.  Now, all of the passengers were crowded out on the deck as the whales continued to cavort around us and follow our boat back into port.

After a few more minutes, our ship pulled up to the dock and all of the passengers carefully disembarked as we tried to now walk on solid ground with our legs still rubbery and wobbly.  Everyone  settled back on the bus again as our lovely driver drove back to our various hotels.  I was exhausted but also feeling very alive as I rested my head against the cool glass of the window by my seat.  I was so pleased now to have had such an amazing adventure on the ocean today.  I thought of the fear and stress I had felt as  I get on the boat and it all seemed so silly now.  I love the water!  Once again, the excitement, the beauty, and the basic joy of being alive had overcome my stress and fear.  And that’s exactly the way life should be…

 

 

 

 

Katie

Katie had the biggest eyes I had ever seen.  But maybe that was because the world was still so fresh and new to her.  She was only 18 when she left her family home for the first time to attend the University of Hull in Kingston-Upon-Hull, England.  Her love and compassion were so great, she still felt connected to her family and fiancé even though they were now a hundred miles away.  Katie didn’t seem stressed by the change in her life, though.  Instead, she seemed endlessly excited to face every new challenge with a bright smile and a determined fearlessness normally inherent in most young people.

Though she was embracing a new life with strength and determination, Katie was still not ready to give up some of her young girl ways.  She moved into her student house with a suitcase full of clothes, books, and a menagerie of cuddly friends.  A trunkload of furry, stuffed animals lived underneath a large array of photos of family and friends that were tacked up in random order on her yellow bedroom wall.  The glassy-eyed bunnies, dogs, and ducks sat on her narrow hard bed all year and sometimes Katie would tuck them snugly under her heavy quilt before leaving for classes in the morning.  Her long dark hair would be wrapped up in a high bun or bouncing in curls down her back as she ran for the bus or walked in the cool English wind to campus.  Katie was studying fashion and set design for the theater.  She loved going to the cinema and enjoyed live theater.  She was a talented actress who loved music and had no fear of a dance floor.

I thought I knew Katie very well.  We were roommates at the University of Hull.  I was the exchange student from America.  I was the older, weird foreigner that Katie randomly got stuck with during her first year.  Katie, however, didn’t seem to mind.  She embraced me as a member of her family.  I was her older, gypsy sister from the very first day we meet.  I remember Katie’s excitement in meeting her “first, real live American!”  I remember the warmth and kindness she extended to me the night it was my turn to cook the student meal for my house and I burnt the food so badly we all went to bed hungry that night.  Katie had wrapped her arms around me and hugged me close as I cried from embarrassment, shame, and guilt for starving everyone.  Though Katie and I would go shopping and to the cinema together, though we would relax together over endless cups of tea, though we would lie in our separate beds, together in the dark, talking into the night, there were times when Katie would be the bratty kid sister to my worldly older sibling mindset.  At times, I would push her away while demanding my space.  I would become annoyed when she would read my newspaper directly over my right shoulder.  I would complain when she opened my mail before I got home or wanted to hang out with my dates and me.  I cringed when she went through my luggage and criticized my fashion sense or lack thereof.

Katie always seemed to understand, though, when I became frustrated.  She would slowly and sorrowfully back away from me.  But  then like most younger sisters, she would be right by my side again the next morning; she would once more laugh, play, and lift me up whenever I felt like I was falling down.  For that year, we were family, at times close and loving; at others annoyed and upset with each other.  But sisters all the same.

A year later, Katie and I hugged good-bye as we shared whispered promises to stay in touch and write often.  Katie would be continuing her studies at the University of Hull, while I returned to the University of Kansas in Lawrence, Kansas, America.

But the years sped so quickly by and life got in the way, and Katie and I started to travel in separate directions.  Over the years, we lost touch, which is something I continue to regret.

I thought of Katie over the years and wondered if she married her fiancé and what kind of wedding they had.  I wondered how many children Katie raised or if she had decided to dedicate her life to the arts.  Knowing Katie’s exuberant personality, she probably was superwoman, putting tremendous effort into motherhood and career and was exceptional at both.

Now, after many months of escaping from my thoughts, Katie’s sweet smile, big eyes, long hair, and enthusiastic personality have been on mind since Monday, May 22, 2017.  Around 4 pm that day, I learned that there had once more been a suicide bomber who killed himself along with 22 innocent young people.  Over 100 people were injured and fifty-nine of those people were in the hospital.  The bombing occurred directly after an Arianna Grande concert in Manchester, England.

Katie and her family lived in Manchester, England.

I don’t know yet if Katie and her family are safe.  I don’t know if she was even at the concert.  I wish now more than ever that I had never lost contact with her.

I am older now and so much wiser and I’m beginning to realize a few things.  Over the years, I have regretted the things that I didn’t do more than the things I did.  But I mainly regret the moments when I could have loved another person or maintained a friendship, but didn’t make the effort.  Regretting people is so much harder than regretting events.  Do you ever get the opportunity to say I love you again?  I can change events.  I can alter the course of my life.  But I can’t always go back and rewrite relationships especially when I don’t even know where to find that particular person again.

It’s been hard to hear about the terrorist attacks over the last few years.  Europe (France, Belgium, London) holds incredibly special memories for me, and I suffer horrible heartaches when all of the beautiful places I have loved so much have been destroyed.  But this time, I intimately know someone whose hometown was attacked by terrorism and my heart has been completely broken.

I think about Katie now and pray that she and her family are safe.  And I really pray that it is not too late to say something so incredibly simply.

I’m so grateful, Katie, that you were my special, sweet roommate for my year in England.  Thank you.

I miss you, Katie.

I love you.

Prayers for Manchester

My Perfect Roses

Last Sunday, my thoughts were just as drab and boring as the world I had been walking through.  I felt trapped as I made my way down the main aisle of the backroom of my workplace.  I was surrounded on all sides by dull, concrete floors, light gray steel beams, and plain brown cardboard boxes.  But then just like in the Wizard of Oz when black and white scenes suddenly blossom into brilliant color, I noticed something crimson red shining just to my left side.  I turned around and gasped as I caught my breath.

“Oh, those are beautiful!”  I sighed as I came to a complete dreamlike stop.  I suddenly forgot why I had been in such a hurry as I focused on the long stem roses that were lying in a blue basket.  The black handle of the square basket was resting across Bernard’s left arm.

“Do you want a rose?” the assistant manager asked me.

“Really,” I smiled.  “I can have one?”

“Of course, you can,” he answered as he offered the basket out to me.  I thanked him profusely and grabbed the stem of a large blooming red rose.  I pulled the luscious flower from the basket and held it up to my face to breath in the delicious scent of the petals.  “Okay,” Bernard said after I had been completely intoxicated with the sweet aroma.  “You have to let me take your picture now.”

That’s when I noticed that Bernard was holding a digital camera in his opposite hand.  I’ve always been very uncomfortable in front of cameras.  So, now, I shook my head.  “No, thanks,” I told him.  “I’ll have to give you the rose back.”  I started to place the beautiful, perfect creation back into the basket.  Refusing the picture was actually a graceful way out for me because I had suddenly realized that the roses actually had a special purpose.  The flowers were for Mommas.  I had completely forgotten through the course of my busy workday that it was Mother’s Day.  I don’t have children of my own and my mother had passed on seven years ago.  So, of course, I don’t really have a reason or a right to celebrate Mother’s Day and, honestly, it is a holiday that makes me really sad.  I sighed wistfully as I placed the rose back into the basket.

“No, it’s okay,” Bernard told me.  “You can have a rose.  Go ahead and keep it…and I won’t force you to have your picture taken either.”

I just shook my head no and slowly began to back away.  I didn’t deserve the flower.  “Thank you, Bernard,” I told him.  “I do appreciate it but I’m not a mother.  I don’t have any children.  These roses should go to mothers today.

Bernard just laughed then and said, “It doesn’t matter.  You can have a rose, too, if it makes you happy.  Come on.  Take one.”  He held the basket out to me again.

I couldn’t stop smiling now as I grabbed hold of the stem of the flower I had just returned and pulled it back out of the basket.  “Thank you,” I told him.

“That’s fine,” Bernard answered.  “Just enjoy it.

And I did.  Holding the rose and running my fingers over the red, feather soft petals made my day a little brighter.  I was really missing my mother and the rose made me think of her.  I thought about the rose bush my mother had planted and carefully nurtured in the corner of our backyard when I was a child.  But then, thinking about my mother who had sacrificed so much for me, I couldn’t help feeling a little guilty.  I wondered if I had taken a rose away from a woman who was much more deserving than I could ever be.  Did I just steal a rose from one of the many gracious women who went through the pain of childbirth and suffered sleepless nights taking care of sick children?

Honestly, I would have loved to have been one of those women.  But certain life situations and health problems such as ovarian cysts and uterine tumors prevented me from feeling worthy of a rose.  But I also had to admit that the flower and Bernard’s kindness, the way he included me in this simple tribute, made me smile and brightened my day.

A week later, Sunday, May 20, 2017, I was back at work and having a rather bad day.  I kept repeating to myself New Age affirmations to help me make it through my work hours.  “A good or bad day is just my perception.”  “I can use my power of positive thinking to make this a better day.”  But nothing seemed to help.  I spent the day struggling with even the most minor tasks.  I just couldn’t seem to adjust to the stress of the day and my frustration was pushing me to the point of tears.

As I struggled to pull myself together that afternoon, I suddenly heard someone calling out to me.  I turned around to see  Charles standing behind me.  “Here, this is for you, Jamie,” he said as he held out his hand to me.  “Take this and hold onto it until your day becomes better.”  I stared down at the small, red rose resting in his palm, and my heart suddenly filled with hope and gratitude.  I was so touched by Charles’s sweet gesture.  “Thank you so much,” I answered.  “That’s so sweet of you.”   I reached out and took the rose from his hand.  As Charles walked away , I pinned the rose to my shirt and immediately began to feel much better.  What an amazing blessing that gift was!  And now, after all of the positive thinking I tried to force on myself, that simple rose made me feel so much better.

I thought now about both roses I had received over the last two Sundays and I realized something.  Though I regret not being a mother, though I am ashamed of myself for not handling my frustration better, people still cared about me.  I don’t have to be anything in particular or do anything special for people to think of me.  I had no reason to feel inadequate or ashamed or lacking in my life.  I don’t have to have a great job or a lot of money.  Instead, all I had to do was be kind and have a good heart and there will always be people to support and help me.

My coworker’s kindnesses reminded me of the love Jesus Christ holds for all of us.  He knows our regrets and our failings and yet He continues to love and support us anyway.  He continues to help us grow strong and beautiful and blossom into special spirits….just like my beautiful perfect roses.  I am so blessed!

Thank you so much, Bernard and Charles, for your kindness…and my roses!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pennies from Heaven

When my mother was a small child, she always carried coins in her black-and-white saddle shoes for safekeeping.   It became a habit that she continued into her adulthood.  My mother always placed pennies in her shoes before putting them on her feet.  “It brings me good luck,” she would say whenever I questioned her about it.

I never could figure out how Mom’s ritual brought her good fortune, especially when her old shoes had numerous holes.  But my mother truly believed in her superstition and, I guess, there were a few times when it was a true blessing.  When I was a child, I remember watching my mother scrape spare change together from the bottom of her purse to pay for the weekly groceries.  If she was still a few cents short, Mom, standing right there in the check-out line, would step out of her shoes and pick out the coins that she had placed there for providence.  She would hand the coins to the cashier, and then, with her head held high, she would step back into her shoes, gather together her groceries and children and proudly walk out of the store.  Yeah, there were times when those pennies brought her real luck and good fortune.

Though I never put pennies in my shoes, there was another coin tradition Mom taught me that I completely embraced.  Mom believed in “pennies from heaven.”  Every time she randomly found a coin on the ground, Mom would tell me that an angel was watching over her.  Whenever angels are near they leave gifts of coins and feathers.  I have always had a great belief in angels and continually looked for spare change whenever I needed a boost of faith.  I rarely found the reassurance I was looking for.

Well, that was until my mother passed away on March 16 of 2010.  After that day, coins suddenly seemed to appear around me at the most random times and in the most unusual places.  From the very first penny I found after Mom passed, I truly believed it was a sign from heaven that she was still looking out for me.  And whenever I found more valuable coins I felt doubly blessed.  Whenever I find pennies, I always think of Mom and her ritual even though I keep the coins I find in a special glass vase and never in my sneakers.

For some reason, I’m not sure why, I suddenly thought of Mom and the spare change she kept in her shoes while I was at work on Easter Sunday.  I didn’t consciously concentrate on the memory.  It just came and went as a passing thought.

But that afternoon, my right shoes suddenly felt a little funny.  I took a few steps and felt a strange pressure at the bottom of my right toe.  I shook my foot trying to shake away the feeling.  It didn’t help.  Every step I took caused a small achy pressure into my toes.  I tried hard to ignore it.  I was at work and didn’t want to be bothered by something so trivial.  I knew there was something in my shoe but didn’t know what it was.  Finally, when the pressure was too annoying, I took off my right shoe, held it up over my left hand, and shook my sneaker.  To my surprise, a nickel fell out of my shoe and came to rest  in the center of my palm.

I stared at the coin in surprise.  I don’t know how the nickel suddenly got into my shoe that Sunday afternoon.  What an amazing Easter gift.  I whispered a quiet thank you to my mom and my many angels for always looking out for me.  Even though I had to work on this holiday, it was, without a doubt, the best, most blessed Easter I had  ever had.

Peace for the Living

I decided to spend last Thursday in quiet contemplation.  I wanted to take the day one minute at a time and just breathe.  I didn’t want to worry about anything; I just wanted to be introspective.  So that morning, I woke up slowly and took my time getting out of bed.  I had a leisurely breakfast that consisted of a Powerbar and a diet coke.  That certainly wasn’t an elegant or nutritious breakfast, of course, but I really didn’t care.  I was thinking much deeper thoughts.  I had to admit that I was sad, but not depressed.  I just felt an overall achiness throughout my spirit that stopped me from being energetic.  I finally got myself dressed and pushed myself to get on with my day.  I didn’t have anything on my schedule, but I needed to get out of the house for a while.  I planned just to run a few errands and then go back home.

My first stop was at Wal-mart to get my prescription filled.  After placing my order with the pharmacy technician, I took a seat on the small, iron bench by the pharmacy counter as I waited for my order to be filled.  As soon as I sat down, I suddenly heard a loud voice shouting from behind me.  “What do you mean you don’t have it!” a female voice yelled.  “No, you don’t understand.  I need Holy Basil.  Where is it?”

I tried not to pay attention, but I had nothing to distract me.  I didn’t have my book with me and I didn’t want to search for my phone at the bottom of my purse.  I told myself it was none of my business but as the woman continued screaming for the herbal supplement, I turned around for a quick glance.  My eyes focused on a short, dark haired, older woman in a large trench coat and a brown scarf which was wrapped around her head.  Her lined face was twisted into a hard scowl and her eyes blazed with anger.

Not wanting to catch her eye, I quickly turned back around in my seat.  I didn’t want to stare at the woman.  I didn’t want to listen to her but I couldn’t block out her voice as she continued to rage.  “I can’t believe you don’t have it.  You carry so many other herbal products.  Why don’t you have that one?  I know you have it somewhere.  It helps with stress.  And I have so much stress right now!”

Don’t we all, lady?  I thought rudely.  While I was getting anxious, the sales clerk answered in a calm voice.  “Ma’am, I’m sorry.  We just don’t carry that herb in stock…”

“It is called Holy Basil,” the woman repeated herself.  “It is a common herb used to manage stress.  I need it now.  I swear I just saw it here with the other vitamins and herbs last week.  I can’t believe you don’t have it now.  I know it has to be here.  Look again,” the woman ordered the clerk.

The sales clerk’s voice now began to rise in frustration as she stated, “Ma’am, I’ve already checked our stock twice.  We don’t have it.  I can try to order it for you….”

“But I needed it now,” the woman insisted.  “You just don’t get it!  I can’t handle my stress right now!  I read that Holy Basil should help.  You don’t know what my life is like.  I have my elderly parents living with me right now.  It is really stressful taking care of my mom and dad.”

I just shook my head hopelessly.  So this woman is stressed because she has her parents living with her.  God, what I won’t give to have my parents back with me again.  Both my parents had crossed over.  My father died of a brain aneurysm eighteen years ago.

And my mother…

Well, that very day was the seventh anniversary of my mother’s passing.  And here I was listening to a woman complain because she had to live with her parents.

I had been living with my mother right before she passed.  Mom had moved out to California from Kansas and lived in my studio apartment with me for the last nine months of her life.  Though small disagreements, like when was the best time to take out the trash, would flare up from time to time, we got along well and I’m very thankful now that we had those last few months together.  So now, I wanted to turn to the raging woman and say, “You don’t know how fortune you are.  You still have your parents.  Every single day, I miss just talking to my mother.”

And it is true.  No matter how successful you are, you still need your parents.  It’s hard to lose a parent no matter how old you are.  I’m fortunate that I had my parents through most of my adulthood, but that didn’t make it any easier when they passed.  Even as an adult, I felt no more prepared for their deaths than if I had been an orphaned child.

But now as I listened to the woman complain on the anniversary of my mother’s passing, I wanted to scream as I heard the woman’s voice continue in an anxious yell, “You just don’t understand.  I can’t handle the stress.”

And then the woman’s voice began to choke with tears.  “I have to take full care of my father while he is recovering from a major stroke.  He has to learn to walk again and he doesn’t talk at all.  And my mother, my mother has Alzheimer’s.  Her dementia is so bad,” the woman suddenly sobbed, “her dementia is so bad, she doesn’t even know who I am.”

Oh, my God, I sighed heavily and tears burned my eye as I listened to the woman’s sobs.  My father passed within two days of his brain aneurysm, and I only had to take care of my mother for five weeks after she had been diagnosed with colon cancer.  I was my mother’s only caregiver, and I was constantly worried and anxious.  How would I get Mom to all of her chemotherapy treatments and take care of all of her needs while working full time so I could continue to support us?  I really tried to take care of my mother to be best of my abilities…but I know that I probably angry and tired, too.  I’m surprised I hadn’t been standing in the middle of a Wal-mart somewhere screaming at the pharmacy clerk to find me something for stress.  I know that in just those five weeks that I had took care of my mother before her death, I wasn’t always patient and kind, either.

I was ashamed now that I had judged this woman so unfairly.  Her situation was none of my business in the first place, and therefore, it was beyond my judgment.  So why did I make it my problem?  Why did I take her behavior so personally?  Now, I realized it was true.  I never really know someone else’s situation or what they are suffering.  I can never really know what another person is going through.  Everyone is fighting a battle I know nothing about.

I wanted to get up from my seat and approach the woman.  I wanted to tell her how sorry I was.  But the woman was already walking away.  She had given up on finding the herb she thought she so badly needed when instead maybe she just needed someone to understand what she was going through.  I watched as the woman walked past me with her shoulders down and her head lowered.  But I didn’t approach her.  She was running past me so fast and my thought couldn’t seem to catch up with her.  So instead, I prayed for her and asked God to send his blessings to her family.  I also asked God to help me be more tolerant of other people’s emotions and outburst and to better understand other people’s situations.  I prayed that all of us would find some level of peace that day.

I had no doubt right then that Momma, along with God and His many angels, were smiling down on all of us.  And I smiled as I realized that there was no better way to honor the anniversary of my mother’s passing than to pray for another person seeking some a remedy for her home and family situation.  I miss and love you.  Rest in peace, Momma…

…And may God grant peace to all of us.

 

No Angel

For the last 25 years, I have celebrated a minimalist Christmas.  I don’t set up a Christmas tree.  I don’t put out any decorations.  I buy a few presents, but don’t expect any in return.  I don’t watch any Christmas specials.  I don’t set up my native scene.  My small plaster figurines of Jesus, Mary, Joseph, and the angels are safely wrapped up and tucked away in storage.  I usually spend every Christmas alone.

I wasn’t raised this way.  My mother loved Christmas.  It was one of the few holidays she continued to celebrate even after her children were grown.  Mom always decorated a Christmas tree using ornaments she had collected throughout the years.  Most of the decorations consisted of cotton ball snowmen, clothes pin reindeers, and clay handprints Mom’s children made in elementary school.  Mom always loved these awkward, lopsided, misshapen ornaments the most.  Every year, Mom also set up a native scene, though she always had to stop my sisters and me from playing with the Jesus figure as if he was our very own baby doll.  She would put vines of holly around every door and trays of candy on every table.  Mom always said that Christmas is a time for miracles.  That idea is the only tradition of Christmas that I carry with me from my childhood.

While so many people celebrate the holiday with the traditional tinsel and glimmer, Christmas for me is always a time of quiet reflection.  I always spend Christmas day in prayer, meditation, contemplation, and silent worship of Christ.  I want this one special day to be 100% God-focused.  I don’t want presents, or trees, or wreaths to distract me from my communion with Christ.  Even though I celebrate a modest holiday, it is continually filled with peace and elation.  The feeling is so blissful, I always pledge every Christmas that I will make this joy last all year long.  I’m always determined that I will continue to hold Jesus in my soul.  I want to get to know Christ more; I want to carry him within my heart and not let minor things of this world bother me and cause me to lose my focus.  I want to maintain Christmas joy for the rest of the year.

Unfortunately, this year, I didn’t even make it a week….

Christmas was on Sunday, December 25th, of course.  For the next few days, I was happy, and peaceful.  I felt grateful and blessed.  All my good intentions, however, crashed down around me by Thursday, December 29.  Yes, Thursday…just four days later!

That morning, I woke up at 2:30 to get to work by 4.  I started the day off well.  I said my daily prayers before I walked out the door.  The drive to work in the morning darkness was enchanting and thought-provoking.  I thought about life and God and everything in the universe.  Twice that morning, on two separate occasions, two of my co-workers talked about God with me.  To my surprise, they just randomly began to discuss God’s graciousness, his goodness, and his love for all of his children.  Their conversation made me smile.  Their words just enhanced the bliss I was already feeling.

A little later that morning, the computer I was using suddenly froze.  I tried everything I could think of to get the computer running again.  I turned it off and on; I punched control-alt-delete several times.  All the quick fixes I could think of failed me.  The computer remained frozen on a bright blue background with the computer logo flashing across the screen.  I told myself not to panic.  I took a deep breath and remembered that Archangel Michael was the angel to call on to fix appliances.  So I placed both of my hands on the monitor and started to pray:’

“Archangel Michael, please help me.  I have a lot of work I need to complete and the computer won’t work.  I need your help to fix my computer so I can finish my assignments.”

Suddenly, I heard a beep and saw a flash out of the corner of my eye.  In the midst of my prayer, the computer came flickering back to life.  I thanked Archangel Michael for us assistance and was able to get all of my work done on time.

So, the day was going well with many opportunities to remain God-focused even during my hectic working day.

So why did I suddenly lose my faith that afternoon?

I had been working hard.  I had multiple assignments and was doing my best to complete additional jobs for a few people who had called in sick.  I thought I had followed all assignments correctly.  I thought I was doing very well and remained in a state of grace…for a while…

Only when I believed I was being unfairly criticized by my supervisor for a miscommunication did my faith and my peace desert me.  When I felt unnecessarily attacked in front of my peers, my focus suddenly shifted away from God.  I had given into my ego.  I had given into my fears.  Why didn’t I just continue to trust in God and know that this moment would pass, too?  Why didn’t I remind myself that God still loved me and he would not forsake me even when I felt humiliated and disrespected?  Instead of just nodding my head and correcting the situation, I argued back that the directions I had been given were not clear.  I demonstrated to my supervisor that I had done the work according to her plan.  I continued defending myself by reminding her that I had checked in an hour ago to explain what I was doing with the assignment and my supervisor had told me I was correct.

But as I argued my point, I didn’t feel vindicated or victorious.  I felt horrified, sad, and embarrassed by my behavior.  I was ashamed of myself for not just letting the perceived injustice go.  I responded to the stress of the moment with more stress.  I responded to negativity with negativity.  I made a bad situation worse.

For just that moment that Thursday afternoon after Christmas, I had slipped away from God.  I remind myself that I am only human; I am by no means an angel.  I am here on earth now to learn and to grow and to change and to better my soul the same way I must do in every lifetime.  I just have to accept that there will be times when I will fall from grace, and I must keep the faith that God is still there for me even in those moments.  I have to remember that God will always be by my side even when I am far from perfect.

I still feel angry with myself now that, for a brief moment, I lost sight of what was really important in this world.  Now, I search for God once more.  I open my heart and my soul again to accept Lord Jesus Christ.  And I must remember even when I have my bad moments, I am still one of God’s children.  I am one of his lesser angels…and he still loves me all the same…He will guide me to heaven even in those moments when I do not think I am worth the effort.  He has come to save my soul from my own ego and insecurities….

In Christ, I am continually reborn….

And maybe, just maybe, that is the true meaning of Christmas.